It felt like a hit in the solar plexus.
I’d just finished laughing online about my domestic weekend making soup and pizza and calling myself Nigella when the photos came through on the internet.
Nigella being throttled by her husband, 70 year old Charles Saatchi.
And there it was, the evidence – as if I needed any – that domestic violence occurs in every strata, every class, every marriage – celeb or not – and it is brutal.
Wealth, beauty, charm, talent, and even fame will not shield you from it, necessarily.
But what I wanted to know was this – why did no one help?
If Charles Saatchi had gone up to a strange woman dining at the chi-chi restaurant in London and placed his hands around her neck in such an intimidating way that she shot back in fear and burst into tears, wouldn’t someone have called the police? Or at the very least, intervened?
Why didn’t someone help Nigella?
Why didn’t someone go up to the table and tell the man to stop it or the authorities would be called? Was it because they are married? And if so, does the complication of the marital relationship mean that Nigella does not need help.
She made her married bed and now she must lie in it?
It reminded me of a time in Bangkok years ago when I was travelling. I was walking around a shoe shop looking for a bargain and as I was shielded by a large display of shoes an English man and his Thai woman-for-the-week (yes, I’m absolutely certain she was hired) came in. He didn’t see me.
Because the moment they came in he started hectoring her and pushing her and calling her a ‘Slut’ and a ‘Bitch’. She was obviously distressed and fearful, I could hear it in her voice, so I made my presence known and walked towards the git from Great Britain to stop him.
But a funny thing happened. The moment he saw me he changed. He put his arm around the woman (to acquiesce or intimidate?) and smiled – embarrassed – at me. Caught!
But despite an exemplary display of behaviour of gentlemanly charm and good-nature I had no doubt that the moment my Western disapproval disappeared he would be back to asserting his dominance over the hapless woman, and no one would lift a finger to help her.
Is this situation any different to the one we hear reported from London? Does the marital relationship mean that the man has the marital right as the ‘head of the household’ to treat his wife in whatever manner he pleases? Of course it doesn’t, and yet despite all the legal protection in the world, still no one intervened.
But the real kicker in the story for me was this. The forlorn kiss Nigella placed on her husband’s cheek. A sign of submission akin to a dog rolling over onto her back revealing her belly. ‘Kick me again if you must.’
Shame on the other diners in the restaurant (and for that matter the photographer also!) who didn’t intervene because of a misguided sense of polite propriety. Would you watch a woman being denuded and flayed in public and look the other way also?
And as for those who say – it was a private matter between a husband and wife, here’s the thing.
When isn’t it?
A huge percentage of domestic and emotional abuse happens out of view, behind closed doors. When an incident happens like this in public isn’t that a frightening warning sign – a tip of the iceberg of behaviour that is surely happening out of the public eye?
But he didn’t throttle her. He didn’t leave her body battered and bruised. He didn’t ‘hurt’ her, physically. He only scared her.
Her husband, the man she trusts to be the closest to her. The one who sleeps next to her in the marital bed, who has pledged to love and cherish her ’till death do us part’.
And when he placed his hands around her neck in a display of utter dominance not one person came to her aid. Everyone looked the other way.
Nigella, and others like her, must surely feel the loneliest wretch in the world.
If you are frightened of your partner you need to read this: Signs of abuse
In NZ call 0800 REFUGE Women’s Refuge
In UK call 0808 2000 247 Refuge
In Australia call – 1 800 RESPECT ReachOut
In US call – 24 hour helpline – 800-799-7233 Where to get help in US